In the weeks building up to my college graduation, I viewed the event as being let out on parole. I lived through four years of Pilgrim-cold east coast winters and plates of refried puddles in restaurants claiming to be “Tex-Mex.” Hand-to-god, neither Texicans nor Mexicans had anything to do with the culinary apologies that came out of those kitchens. I lost my tan. I lost my morale. But most importantly, I lost my adolescent infatuation with New York. I met my quota on the number of times a person can watch Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” in a lifetime and I no longer cared about hanging out in coffee shops Ginsberg used to frequent. My dreams of the-big-money-poetry-life were over. All I could think about was Joan Didion’s last essay in ”Slouching Towards Bethlehem.“ I was a prodigal daughter ready to come home and without admonishment for ever leaving her Promised Land, California beckoned me. Like Didion, I wanted the comfort of seeing the moon on the Pacific and smelling jasmine all around. I wanted to go home.
Ten years after graduation, I still get this feeling. Though London is my physical home, Los Angeles is where my heart resides.
I miss L.A.’s latin heartbeat. I miss the way lots of streets have Spanish names and you can hear Spanish spoken everywhere you go–even though I don’t speak a word. I was the idiot in high school who studied French instead. I miss the smell of taco trucks, fresh fruit and the sea. I miss L.A.’s hot dusty smells too. The ones that make you feel like a vaquero amongst the sage brush or a Spanish settler praying to god for protection in the New World. I miss howling coyotes and ripe avocados and the out of work actors/writers/directors/musicians/artists who all have shows they’d love for you to attend. I even miss Bukowski’s seedy Hollywood. Black Dahlia Hollywood. Ugly people, bad judgement, misdeeds, and broken dreams. I miss Spanish colonial architecture and tree houses up in the hills. Mostly, I miss the people with whom I have a shared history. Hell, I miss it all. I miss outdoor malls. I miss the restaurants I went to with my parents as a kid. I miss The Little Door where my husband and I had our wedding dinner.
Sometimes I miss it all so bad. When I do, I make the following salsa and it helps. The family housekeeper, Lucy, used to make this when I was growing up. It’s amazing. It’s transportive and it really can heal heart wounds. Even from 5,400 miles away.
3 large ripe tomatoes
1 jalapeño of your desired intensity
3 unpeeled garlic cloves
the juice from one lime
1 small onion
freshly chopped cilantro
You will also need foil.
Fashion the foil into a small boat. Make sure it’s sturdy. Now put the tomatoes, the scallion, the jalapeño, and the garlic cloves into it. Place the foil boat on one of your stove’s gas burners and keep it on low. Some of the foil will burn away, but try to make sure enough of it remains. Dry roast your ingredients until they start to char. Turn them every once in a while. When the tomatoes start to go soft and juicy, remove them. Let everything cool for a few minutes. Then roughly chop one tomato and put it in a bowl. Slice the scallion into thin rounds and add this to the chopped tomato. Next, peel the garlic cloves. Put them and the jalapeño in a mortar and use a pestle to mash them until they form a paste. Add the remaining two tomatoes and mash them as well. Pour the contents into the bowl with the chopped tomato and the scallion. Dice your small onion and add it as well as the lime juice and cilantro. Season with salt to taste.
Dip into this salsa with your favorite tortilla chips and no matter the weather, you’ll taste the sun.